Last week, FourKites announced the latest in a long line of industry-first innovations: multimodal purchase order (PO) tracking of all freight in the FourKites platform. Tracking shipments across their entire lifecycle using their associated PO numbers is a really big deal for the many organizations and teams – teams such as inbound logistics, track-and-trace, customer service, procurement/materials management, merchandising – that manage the exchange of goods primarily via PO numbers, rather than load identification numbers.
You can read more about this powerful new capability in the official press release. What really excites me, and what I wanted to share here, is the incredible story behind this new capability.
Anyone who is familiar with FourKites knows that customer-driven innovation is core to our philosophy and approach. One of the many ways that manifests is at FourKites’ annual Visibility Conference, where a good portion of the agenda is dedicated to disclosing detailed product roadmaps to our customers, and gathering their feedback to incorporate into our future plans. Each year, attendees literally cast votes for the features they most want to see in the platform in the coming year which we then commit to delivering in the year to come. At our Visibility 2019 conference, a majority of customers voted overwhelmingly for the ability to provide PO lifecycle visibility .
That vote was just the beginning of an ongoing collaborative process with several customers that played out over months as we worked together to understand user requirements, and build and test the new capability. Our lead customer was Meijer, one of the largest grocery retailers in the United States. Meijer, like so many companies, tracks shipments using purchase orders, rather than loads. They were frustrated with the time-intensive, error-ridden process of working within multiple systems (e.g., ERP, POM TMS, YMS, homegrown systems) and across multiple teams to painstakingly identify all of the individual load numbers associated with any given PO. Their primary objective was a single, real-time, multimodal visibility platform – based on PO tracking – that their procurement, logistics and merchandising teams could all use to better manage the order deliveries.
We met with Meijer multiple times every week, working initially to ingest and understand their various data sources. Meijer then developed an API that provided FourKites with all of the information the platform needed for PO-lifecycle tracking. Over time, we expanded the beta group – first to 10 customers and eventually to 40 – as we tested and perfected the new PO tracking capabilities.
What makes this example of customer-driven innovation even more powerful is that because our customers voted for FourKites to prioritize PO lifecycle management, it actually afforded us the opportunity to think even bigger about how to support true, end-to-end multimodal freight tracking.
That’s because PO tracking quite often involves highly complex, multimodal international shipments that consist of dozens or more loads. For that reason, we also needed to build many complementary new capabilities – such as new machine learning ETAs for ocean and rail; the ability to seamlessly link ocean to rail and ocean to over-the-road loads; strengthening our global capabilities by factoring in local travel bans, rest time information, and traffic and weather data into our tracking logic and ETA calculations; and supporting more languages.
We also took this opportunity to enhance our user interface to make it even more customizable and easily facilitate collaboration amongst the various teams.
Suffice it to say, that community vote back at Visibility 2019 has made quite an impact. I’m incredibly proud of the FourKites teams that worked so hard not just to deliver on our promise of an outstanding PO tracking capability, but who also went far above and beyond with a comprehensive platform redesign that supports true, end-to-end visibility into large, global, multi-modal deployments.
Thank you, team, and thank you to Meijer and to our many other visionary and collaborative customers for your partnership. Let’s get to work, together, on the next big thing in supply chain visibility!